Penne alla Vodka
I remember seeing Ina make this years ago and being intrigued. Vodka doesn’t seem at all Italian, and it seems like a weird thing to cook with. Once the alcohol cooks off, you can actually taste a vodka flavor, but it gives it a deep spiciness. That plus the Calabrian chili paste give this sauce a ton of flavor. If you don’t want to get Calabrian chili paste, just use red pepper flakes.
I am not a fan of Alfredo sauce, only because it’s so heavy. This is definitely not a “light” sauce, but I like the combination of tomato and cream together. I used whole wheat penne because I’ve been in the habit of using whole wheat pasta for so long now, it’s all I ever get (except for bucatini).
When you’re cooking off the vodka, the fumes will knock you down if you’re not careful. The alcohol vaporizes so the sauce isn’t going to get anyone drunk, but it super strong as it burns off. Of course, always be careful when you’re cooking with liquor especially in you have a gas range or open flame.
Because this dish is pretty simple and has only a few ingredients, it’s important not to skimp on anything or take shortcuts. Cooking the sauce in the oven for 90 minutes really intensifies the tomato flavor.
Total Time: 2 ½ hours (Hands-On Time: 1 hour)
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
1 yellow onion, small diced
3 cloves garlic, very roughly chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons Calabrian chili paste (or crushed red pepper flakes)
1 cup vodka
28-30 ounces canned diced tomatoes
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound whole wheat penne
1 cup heavy cream
5 ounces freshly grated parmesan cheese, divided
8-10 fresh basil leaves, torn
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- To an oven safe pan with a fitted lid, add several tablespoons of olive oil, and heat over medium heat on the stove.
- Once the oil is hot, add the onion, and sauté for 4-5 minutes.
- Add the garlic, oregano, and chili paste (or red pepper flakes), and sauté for another 4-5 minutes. Watch carefully to not burn the garlic, and add more olive oil as needed.
- Add the vodka, and bring to a boil. Cook uncovered over medium for another 4-5 minutes until most of the fumes from the vodka have evaporated.
- Add the canned tomatoes. Bring to a boil briefly before bringing down to a simmer, and cook for another 6-8 minutes. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
- Cover the pot, and put it in the oven for 90 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package instructions, and set aside.
- Remove the tomato sauce from the oven. Ladle the sauce into a blender, and puree until smooth.
- Add the sauce back to a saucepan over low heat. Add the heavy cream and half of the parmesan cheese. Stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is heated through. Stir in the torn basil.
- Mix pasta and sauce together. Serve hot topped with more parmesan cheese.
[adapted from Nick and Toni’s restaurant via Ina Garten]